Stranger Citizen

paddington_2888171bWhen I was a little girl, I had a pair of little red wellington boots that I wore obsessively, whatever the weather, till they didn’t fit me anymore. I’ve never given it much thought until I saw one of the Paddington Bear statues in Paddington station the other day, one of 50 placed around the city to mark the new movie. I realise now that I loved my boots because Paddington had a similar pair, and I adored that bear, even though I didn’t like marmalade. Funnily enough, there’s a lot of celebration and anticipation around the new film of Paddington, even as we have a very ill-tempered and often cruel discourse on immigration. Paddington was effectively an undocumented migrant “from darkest Peru” who arrived with a little suitcase (more than most in a similar position) and was adopted by a loving family.

When I was younger I loved Paddington’s outfit and his propensity to cause havoc. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the gentle lesson of acceptance and welcoming the stranger. I was reading a blog earlier on citizenship as a moral ideal, which I thought threw up some interesting thoughts on citizenship “as a status given to the individual by a community (passport-citizenship)”  and “as a moral ideal that exists whether or not it is recognised by the community.”

I think it’s a fascinating exploration of looking beyond the paperwork to how we build our societies.

“The ideal of citizenship lies submerged in our basic obligation to take care of the stranger even when they do not seem a citizen.” – Simon Duffy, from “Citizenship as a moral ideal”

Should we not treat the undocumented, the refugee, the temporary migrant, student – whoever – as a citizen, regardless of their paperwork? Even as I typed that I thought of welfare and benefits – but that’s exactly the problem. That’s a hobbled view of citizenship, which more than just a series of checks and balances – rights and responsibilities. Community, those many ties that bind, goes beyond paperwork. What I think a lot of politicians overlook is that when they posion the well of public discourse, community, brotherhood, or whatever you want to call it – suffers, long after their election is won.


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